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Trust in newspapers dives into the toilet bowl

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

We’ve seen the horror stories. Over the last 10-15 years, a national mass exodus of fed-up readers and advertisers have sprinted away from daily newspapers.

How did most of the smug, self-righteous newspaper executives and writers react? Their finger of blame was pointed at everyone but themselves, as they watched their circulation numbers crumble. “We’re the victims,” they cried. “The internet, with its free news outlets and underpriced ads and classifieds have caused this disaster,” they moaned.

Typical of these don’t-blame-me excuses were the comments by an editor of a Boston Newspaper some time back, who stated “It’s the internet. It’s all the choices people have for their time.” But the internet is a convenient tree to bark up by news executives. In truth, the internet is merely “supplying” what disaffected readers are demanding but not getting from the print media.

And these media executives can no longer trot out the false claim that their online ad growth has offset the loss of ads on the print side. Here’s a quote on this issue from veteran newspaper analyst John Morton:  “This (problem with declining ad growth and circulation) began long before the internet was even invented. It’s merely been exacerbated by the internet.”

Yes, the internet is a problem for newspapers, but a deeper truth exists which they ignore:  large swaths of the populace are not getting what they want from newspapers. This is the 800 lb. gorilla that no one in the news and editorial rooms wants to recognize: too many readers aren’t getting what they want to read. Many of them believe that what they are getting is tainted by bias and personal opinion. When people don’t get what they want under the Law of Supply and Demand, they go elsewhere. In this case, conservative news sites came to the rescue, filling the void.

It may not be clear why newspaper circulation is dropping in other areas of the country, but in Southeast Florida a big reason is that many people are tired of reading what’s being spooned out.

When they were hit long ago, the radio broadcasting industry solved their problem by making large numbers of “conservative” voices available at the touch of a dial. Look at the ascendancy of Fox and the popularity of Limbaugh, Levin, and Hannity who are among the most listened-to political commentators in the country.

Here’s another personal harp: “conservative” readers are not getting what they want from the MSM. Gauging from their politics, my estimate is that roughly 40%-45% of southeast Florida readers are politically conservative, ranging from “conservative-light” to deep-penetration conservative. If my percentages may be high, I am absolutely certain that 30%-40% is accurate. That’s too much of the population for any newspaper to ignore. A huge untapped audience is the traditionalist, the conservative Republican businessperson.

Here is what the “conservative” reader, and most business leaders believe about most mainstream newspapers:

  • A liberal bias creeps into the selection of story topics and the selection of interviewees by reporters and editorial writers.
  • Every newsworthy story offers the reporter a variety of “takes” or “approaches” that can be selected by the writer for how the story will be treated. Most newspaper writers tilt or slant their “take” on a story to suit their bias. More often than not, their bias is liberal. They think they “know what’s best” for you.
  • The vast bulk of newspaper writers and editors are liberal and pro-Democrat.
  • Most editorial positions of most newspapers end up collectively as boosterism for the leftist worldview, conservatives believe. Sometimes this fawning boosterism is light and sometimes its heavy, but the promoter thread runs through most of it.
  • Writers are as much subjective as objective, while they pretend otherwise.
  • Many newspapers keep stale news on the front page if it boosts their political and social worldview.

Like most forms of bias, the distinctions are subtle, but they exist. Conservatives mistrust the objectivity of the media. They distrust the media to tell the truth.

But too many newspaper editors promote the leftist opinions spewed by their “journalists”, who too often are wannabe professional commentators or editorial writers. Only by moving toward the center of the political spectrum, and by thoroughly covering the conservative viewpoint, will newspapers regain some circulation. Don’t hold your breath.

John R. Smith
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